It’s often said that everybody has a book inside them. Maybe, but it’s getting it out that’s the hard part! Most people have no idea how to write a novel and may go through their lives wishing they could just get that story down on paper. In this post I’m going to try to help you get started.
So you want to know how to write a novel? The first step is honesty. Ask yourself do you really want to write a novel. Or do you just want to have written a novel? Those are two entirely different goals and many who set to work accomplishing the former wind up being the latter. Writing a novel is a big commitment and you will save yourself a lot of time and heartache by being completely honest with yourself. But before you answer that question, you need to learn some surprising secrets about just how much work it really takes to write a novel.
How to Write a Novel in a Genre
What is a genre novel? Romance. Steampunk. Mystery. Detective story. Horror. Science fiction. Those categories can just as easily describe a mainstream novel that is not considered a genre novel, hower. What’s the difference? That’s where the pros and cons of genre fiction comes into play. The only problem is that the things considered a pro or a con will vary from writer to writer.
For instance, a true genre novel is typically anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 words less than a mainstream novel. In order for your novel to maintain its genre status, you will also be expected to conform to certain expectations: steampunk should be set around or before the turn of the 20th century, the detective always catches the murderer and historical fiction has longer sentences than adventure novels.
If you are the type of person who believe rules provide order to life and prefers the tight mechanics of plot to the mercurial nature of the human character, you would probably do well to write a genre novel. If you are a long-winded rebel who loves flaunting rules, not so much.
Writing for Ebook Publishing
At the other end of the spectrum from genre novels are the unlimited possibilities held out by self-publishing your novel in ebook form. Can you publish a genre novel as an ebook? Of course. But you can also publish a wildly experimental novel that plays with genre conventions, a 200,000 word stream-of-consciousness peek inside the mind of a madman or a novel that simply tells a story that may only mean something to you.
The ebook represents the true democratization of novel writing. One of the biggest and most frustrating obstacles to trying to write a novel for the first time in the past was the inevitable pressure to write something commercial enough to get published. Well, thanks to ebooks, every novel can now be published, no matter how uncommercial. So for the first time in history, the advice given to those who ask how to write a novel really is all about writing the novel you want. Not what you think a publisher will buy or an agent can sell.
Planning a Novel
The worst thing you can do if you have never written a novel is to seek advice on how to plan it. The danger is that you will find advice on outlining a novel that you think you must follow. Some writers construct complicated outlines that plan everything in advance and can wind up being half as long as the novel itself. Others put together a few scraps of notes and trust their muse do the rest.
How much planning goes into writing a novel is dependent not upon the type of novel, but the type of person you are. If you would benefit from having a game plan to follow, then by all means write an outline for a 50,000 word romance novel. Just don’t feel restricted to using that rigid “A.1.a.” approach to outlining you were taught in school. If an obsession with a theme or a group of characters is what drives you write a novel, but you’re a little fuzzy on plot and incident, then trust your instinct to invisibly guide you as you write even if you’re never sure what’s going to happen next.
How to Write the Mid Section of Your Novel
No doubt about it: getting those first 50 pages of a novel written is the most difficult part for probably 99% of writers. Which may be why so many people have 20 or 30 pages of an unfinished manuscript tucked somewhere inside a desk. At least with the beginning, however, you are hyped up by the excitement of fascinating characters or an inventive plot or a unique spin on something that’s been done before.
The problem with writing the middle of your novel should never be one of boredom. If you are too bored to slog through the middle, you need to drop it and go back to the spot where you got off track. No, the problem with writing the middle of a novel is that when you first sat down to write those opening 50 pages you probably had a pretty clear idea of how your story was going to end.
What you didn’t know back then was that a character was going to evolve in a way you didn’t expect. Or that an entirely new character introduced on page 55 was going to take over your story and lead it off in a direction you never intended. Or that a scene so vivid and exciting caused you to leap out of bed in the middle of the night in order to get it down and now you have to figure out a way to get your characters out of that predicament, but the solution just isn’t coming.
The point? You need to prepare yourself now for the almost guaranteed reality that between page 1 and some point in the middle of the novel, your story is going to undergo a significant change that is going to force you to either change your ending or to nearly pull your hair out in frustration from trying to figure out how to keep what you’ve got and still get to the end you always envisioned.
The First Draft of Your Novel
Remember those surprising secrets you were promised at the beginning of this article? Well, one of the most closely guarded secrets of the process is the heartwarming calculations required to cement belief in yourself that you can complete a first draft and obtain the fortitude to get it done. According to Amazon.com’s Text Stats feature, the precise median word count for novels is exactly 64,531 words. The average page of a novel runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 words. If you set the goal of writing one page of your novel every single day for a year instead of setting the goal of writing a novel, at the end of the year you will have written a 365 page first draft of a novel containing more than 90,000 words.
How to Write the Second Draft
The second draft is not just a matter of polishing the first draft. Most writers will put away the novel for a month at least after finishing the first draft, and not even look at it. Then the second draft will be a complete rewrite. It’s quicker than the first and you can keep some scenes, but there will be big changes too. You might cut out some characters or introduce new ones, for example.
Want to know the most important thing you can learn about how to write a novel? Save a copy of your first draft and use any means applicable to prevent it from being edited. Why? Because those changes you make with your second draft may not turn out to be quite what you desired. And this way you will always be able to go right back to the original starting point. It may not sound like important advice. But that’s only because you haven’t written a novel yet.
One thing that can really help you write that first novel is to become a member of a writing group or take a creative writing class. You’ll usually find that the group is mixed in ability from beginners to those who have finished and perhaps published fiction before, so you shouldn’t feel outclassed. You’ll need to have written something for the other members to comment on, but it doesn’t have to be finished. So take a look online or ask in your local library about writing classes and groups, focusing especially on how to write a novel.